When Missouri travels to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas on Friday, the newly forged border battle will be a key game for both programs looking to savage what is left of their respective 2015 college football seasons.
For a couple of reasons, Missouri may have more to play for entering the cross-SEC battle. The Tigers are 5-6, 1-6 (SEC), looking for that needed sixth victory to become bowl eligible. The other emotional push behind Missouri’s much-needed win is giving the program 11 winning seasons in 15 years to retiring head coach Gary Pinkel. Pinkel has a career mark of 118-72 in 190 games. The win would also prevent a two-game losing streak after the Tigers dropped their last outing 19-8 to Tennessee at home.
At this point the Razorbacks are playing more for pride and a better bowl invitation than anything else. The up-and-down season took another turn in Week 12 losing to Mississippi State 51-50 after getting a would-be game winning 41-yard field goal blocked in the final minute. The Hogs (6-5) are bowl eligible but could use a little bit of the winning formula to help out on the recruiting trail.
Missouri at Arkansas
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 27 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Arkansas -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri’s Offense vs. Arkansas’ Defense
Statistically, the Missouri Tigers are one of the worst offenses in the nation with an average of 291 yards per game, ranking No. 125 out of 128 FBS teams. The Razorbacks front seven is solid against the run, but the back seven gets torched on quick-hitting plays. As a unit, the Arkansas defense is allowing 425 yards per game, with the passing defense giving up 303 of those yards (ranked No. 123 in the nation).
Missouri freshman quarterback Drew Lock has appeared in all 11 games but has seven games under his belt playing as a starter. In those seven games, he has only topped the 200-yard passing mark once hitting up BYU for 244 yards with one touchdown against one pick. Because Missouri’s passing attack has been anemic, the ground game has suffered. In 2014, Russell Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards in 13 games but has been limited to 422 yards in 10 games so far this season.
2. Brandon Allen vs. Missouri’s Pass Defense
The Tigers, per usual, have been tough on defense this year despite the struggles on offense. The Tigers’ pass defense is limiting teams to 175 yards per game but have only faced one other tough passing attack this year - Mississippi State. Arkansas senior starting quarterback Brandon Allen now, surprisingly, owns the school record for career touchdowns with 62 and broke the single-game touchdown passing record held by Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson (six) after connecting for seven against Mississippi State last weekend.
Allen has turned it on when needed with three 400-yard passing games this season but has also been average at times dipping below a .500 completion mark against Tennessee and Alabama. A key for Missouri is getting to Allen with pressure, forcing him to get off balance and throw on the run as much as possible.
3. Kentrell Brothers vs. Alex Collins
Missouri senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers not only leads the SEC in tackles but leads the nation with 140 stops on the year. Alex Collins is having a career year as the Hogs featured back, tacking on his third 1,000-yard season with 1,262 yards and 14 touchdowns scored on the ground.
Collins is only as good as his offensive line and Alabama and Mississippi State have provided a blueprint for Missouri to stop the Razorbacks rushing attack. Collins was held to 26 yards on 12 carries against the Crimson Tide, while he only picked up 53 yards on 19 carries against the Bulldogs. Missouri allows a tough 126 yards a game, while the Hogs are accustomed to being in the neighborhood of 191 per contest.
Missouri is solid all the way around on defense, but against a formidable offense like Arkansas, the Tigers gave up 430 yards of total offense to Mississippi State. The Hogs are lighting up the scoreboard as one of the nation’s best at 36 points per game, while the Tigers rank No. 125 by averaging only 15 points per contest.
The border rivalry means nothing to the two programs yet - like the Egg Bowl (Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State) or the Iron Bowl (Alabama vs. Auburn) - but the personal pride for both coaches to finish strong is at play. If Missouri pulls off the win, Lock will have to have the game of his life in his early collegiate career. If the Hogs pull out the “W”, they will have continued rolling with their offense picking up a couple of stops against Missouri’s underperforming offense.
Prediction: Arkansas 35, Missouri 18
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.